OSHAWA, ONT. – It’s finally that time of year again.
The Penguins arrived in Oshawa, Ontario on Friday for a rookie tournament that will run through Tuesday, signifying the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Twenty-four of the Penguins’ brightest prospects, coached by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes and his assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, will play in three exhibition games against prospects from the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa over the next four days (CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE AND ROSTER
). They’ll also partake in practices, meetings and team meals during their time here.
During the organization’s weeklong development camp in July, the prospects learned the structure, drills and terminology of the Penguins’ system. This tournament is now a chance for the players to put those systems into action in highly competitive game situations, and because of that, this camp truly accelerates the learning curve for them.
“It’s really a continuation of what we did at development camp as far as how we want to play,” Hynes said. “There’s two things: how we want to play systematically on the ice as Penguins – what our system is and our habits and details, and then a little bit of reacclimation of the culture of how we prepare for things off the ice and just the way we do things as a group is really important for them.
“It’s good for them to be able to take some of the things we did in the summer and in practice and put them in live game situations, and see if they can execute under pressure.”
That pressure won’t just come from an opposing defenseman breathing down a Penguins prospect’s neck on the forecheck. It’s also because of the fact that the stakes are higher at this tournament than they were back in development camp in July.
With the timing of the tournament, prospects who are still playing college hockey cannot attend as they’re already started classes back on campus.
The Penguins prospects in attendance are all either currently playing major juniors or have already made the jump to professional hockey, meaning they’re all eligible to compete for spots in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre or Wheeling.
“When they come earlier in the summer, we talk to them about how it’s not a tryout, it's learning,” Hynes said. “But every guy here is trying to make something, whether it’s Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre, Wheeling or trying to get to main camp. So even in their own minds, it’s more of a competition than it is just kind of a developmental situation. And we kind of stress that a little bit to them – that we want to come up here and execute what we want, but we also want to be able to win some games and compete at a high level.”
And they’ll be doing that in front of essentially the entire organization, as all of the Penguins management, coaches, amateur and professional scouting staff and developmental staff will come together in Oshawa for this tournament – which signifies just how important this camp is for the organization.
“It’s an opportunity for all of them to show the whole organization (what they’re capable of),” said Tom Fitzgerald, Penguins assistant to the general manager. “The one thing I talked about was that this is the only time in the year the whole organization will be together. The amateur scouts, professional scouts, NHL coaches, American Hockey League coaches, upper management – everybody’s together. It’s an opportunity for these guys to show why we selected them to come here, why we selected them in the draft and more importantly, to have fun and enjoy yourself and compete.”